Firewatch (PS4): A Short Pause Review - Technical Issues And A Weak Finale Hamper A Well-Acted Narrative
Developer Campo Santo made a big impression on me when they first unveiled their inaugural game, Firewatch. The game was mysterious and intriguing. All we knew about it initially was the fact that it's a first-person, narrative-driven adventure involving park rangers... or something. Now that I've finally had a chance to experience Firewatch firsthand I feel that, although I enjoyed my time with the game, I may have let my hopes get a little too high for this one.
Developer: Campo Santo (@CampoSanto)
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed) / PC / Mac
In Firewatch you play as Henry, a middle-aged man from Boulder, Colorado. After going through an emotional ordeal that I will not spoil here, Henry decides to take a job working as a lookout for a state park in the Wyoming wilderness. Living in a small guard tower, his only human contact is the person at the other end of his walkie-talkie — a fellow lookout named Delilah. Over the course of a summer, the pair go from strangers to good friends as they discuss life, love, and the mysteries of the forest.
The game starts out with a “Choose Your Own Adventure-style” prologue in which you make a series of text-based decisions to establish the details of Henry's back story. These choices don't seem to have any major bearing on the overall narrative, but they definitely affect some of the dialogue options later on. For the rest of the game, the story is told by means of spoken dialogue between the two main characters. I really enjoyed the interactions between Henry and Delilah. Each time Delilah calls you on the radio, you only have a few seconds to reply, or you can choose to completely ignore her. When you do reply, the game gives you a few different options as to how you will respond. Delilah will react differently depending on what you say, which means that there are many lines of dialogue that you will never hear in your first play through.
Although I loved the two main characters, the story that unfolds around them did not resonate with me as much. Without spoiling all of the details, I'll just say that Henry and Delilah discover that somebody has been monitoring their radio frequencies. So, they try to work together to find out who and why. The story did manage to keep me guessing throughout, but the end result is very anticlimactic.
PlayStation fans who love trophies will need to look elsewhere to find a challenge. I found Firewatch's trophy list to be very disappointing. There are only five trophies and they can all be obtained in the course of a single play through. And, since the trophies are connected to the completion of specific chapters in the game, you don't even have to do anything special to earn them. You are guaranteed to get 100% of the trophies as long as you complete the story. I saw several opportunities throughout the game where the developers could have added more trophies to make me want to play through for a second or third time, but alas, it was not meant to be.
I love the overall presentation of Firewatch, from the graphical style and the music to the superb voice acting. However, from a technical standpoint, the game is severely lacking. Firewatch simply does not run smoothly on the PlayStation 4; as you explore the environment, the game engine chugs along with frequent graphical stutters. Rocks and bushes will occasionally appear out of nowhere as the next area of the forest is being rendered before you. I appreciate the fact that there are no loading screens when moving from one area to the next, but these very noticeable technical issues really broke up the immersion of an otherwise fine experience. (Editor’s Note: Developer Campo Santo is aware of the PS4 version’s technical issues and is currently hard at work on a patch.) I didn't have any issues with the game's controls, but since there's no combat, there's no need to make any swift movements. Also, Henry can jog at a decent pace when you press the left stick, which helps to mitigate some of the backtracking later in the game.
Firewatch is a good first effort from Campo Santo, but I feel like there were opportunities for it to be even better. I would have preferred if it had fewer technical issues, more of a plot, and a trophy list that makes me want to go back and play again. In fact, you may not feel any motivation to play a second time, unless you just want to hear all the lines of dialogue that you may have missed the first time through. Having said that, since the game only costs $20 and about 4 to 5 hours of your time, I can still recommend that you check it out — if only to experience the beautiful environments, and to get to know Henry and Delilah for the great characters that they are.
- Interesting main characters
- Excellent voice acting
- Beautiful presentation
- Good controls
- Technical issues
- Anti-climatic ending
- Disappointing trophy list